It’s often hard trying trying to photograph a world famous landmark without re-treading old ground, equally challenging doing something different with it while keeping its spirit intact and leaving it recognisable. Inevitably in the case of this particular subject it’s nigh on impossible.
London at dusk. I’m on a Thames Clipper heading for the Tower Gateway, hoping to get there while the sky holds on to its post-sunset deep blue, yet all the while knowing I’ve missed that particular window of opportunity. Arriving with the black of night filling in the shadows I know I have to get creative. It feels like this great metropolis has already unleashed dozens of others to have a crack at capturing the Gothic-revival icon, and I know it will be the same day after day, night after night, an endless succession of people, an endless succession of photographs…
I head on to the road and walk its length. It’s barely 130 years old but gives the impression of being much older, the Cornish and Portland stone cladding reflecting the style of the adjacent Tower of London and not unintentionally so. There’s a man at the other end in scruffy clothes and hi-vis telling everyone to move on, that he’s closing the structure, but it quickly becomes apparent that he’s living in his own world. I walk on to where I want to be and find another photographer taking the same shot I’m after, a cockney chap with his camera feeding an iPad so he can easily review his work. He tells me that the man in hi-vis isn’t serious. “He’s crazy – but good crazy”. London is full of characters, and not nearly as cold and stand-offish as people would have you believe. I remark on his choice to place the tower at an angle, something which he concedes was an accident, but I’ve already made up my mind to do the same. After a few minutes we bid each other farewell and I set to work realising the vision that’s been forming in my mind since walking the Thames path below.
I’m in place, working the angles, testing exposures, crouching by the carriageway as the late rush-hour traffic passes. I feel quite safe, quite content. People come, people go, they keep moving. The cars go by and then, the holy grail of London night photography – a bus. Two buses. I’ve got the shot I want and proceed to wander in the shadows below, looking for alternative angles before leaving it all behind for the night. Below, more people are taking shots of the bridge, shots of themselves. The world keeps turning, the cycle repeats.
A week later On Westminster Bridge a terrorist drives through the pedestrians, injuring 50, killing 3. I’m reminded that some of the places I go to photograph are dangerous. You can prepare yourself for those, but you don’t expect this. Not here.
I carry on. I’ve always said you can’t live your life in fear.
You can’t give in to it…